Editor’s note: One in a series profiling the 2012 Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductees.
BRUNSWICK, Maine — College football may only be a game to some, but for Howard Vandersea, it has been a lifelong passion and a way to instill important values to his players.
During 37 years on the sidelines, including 24 as a college head coach, Vandersea knew the example he set could benefit his players in their future endeavors.
Vandersea’s attention to organization and detail, including his efforts during 16 years at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, have not gone unappreciated. Sunday afternoon, the 70-year-old native of Northridge, Mass., will be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the Bangor Civic Center.
The 37th MSHOF class also includes Walter Abbott, Phillip Coulombe, Emily Ellis, Ed Guiski, Matt Hancock, Dennis Libbey and Dana Wilson.
Vandersea has been a fixture in New England football circles since he attended Bates College in Lewiston. He was a four-year letterwinner in football and baseball for the Bobcats from 1959-63.
His coaching career began as an assistant coach at Cheverus High School in Portland and in New Jersey. Vandersea, who earned a master’s degree in education from Boston University, spent four seasons as an assistant under Rocky Carzo at Tufts and worked on John Anderson’s staff at Brown.
Vandersea has helped groom many football coaches, including New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Harvard head coach Tim Murphy, University of Maine assistant Paul Ferraro, Maine Maritime Academy head coach Chris McKenney, Springfield head coach Mike DeLong and Bates head coach Mark Harmon.
Vandersea was Springfield’s head coach from 1976-84, compiling a 42-35 record. There, he continued his pursuit of excellence in coaching and teaching the game, since many of the school’s graduates were pursuing careers in coaching.
“I always told the guys, we have to have the best playbook, the best drills, the best organization,” Vandersea said.
“We had a good program, a good football curriculum,” he added. “We did a lot of teaching of football skills, football theory. They’ve all become better coaches than I ever was.”
Vandersea closed out his coaching career at Bowdoin (1984-2000), where his teams went 46-79-3. He continued to stress the importance of planning and details.
“At Bowdoin, most of the guys went on to become lawyers or doctors or businessmen,” he said. “We had to do everything professionally.”
Vandersea credits his numerous assistants over the years for their instrumental roles in any success his teams enjoyed.
“You can’t do this without very talented, loyal and dedicated assistant coaches,” he said.
Vandersea is the Northeast Regional Coordinator of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame and is the president of the organization’s Maine chapter, a post he has held for 25 years. He often speaks with current and former players and coaches.
“They all have one thing in common, they love football,” Vandersea said. “They have this bond. They talk about being part of the game and they talk about their friends, their coaches and their personal relationships.”
Vandersea still plays golf with his baseball coach at Bates, William “Chick” Leahy, who is 87.
It has been a busy spring for Vandersea, who last week in Boston was honored with a roast that was attended by 110 of his former players. The group included 1984 Olympic wrestling gold medalist Jeff Blatnick, who played football at Springfield.
Vandersea was excited to see how successful the men had become in business and other professions.
Later this month, he will be honored by Bates College with a special alumni award.
In 2003, Vandersea won the George C. Carens Award for contributions to New England football.